While disappointment was the initial reaction to Tipperary’s defeat by Clare in Thurles on Wednesday night in the Munster under-21 hurling final for the second year running the much greater concern is that this team, similar to the seniors and minors, fell well short of the pace and intensity of their opponents.
Much was expected of the county’s minor side, but they were blown away by Limerick in much the same way as the seniors succumbed to the Shannonsiders. The under-21 team had a similar experience last Wednesday evening against a quality Clare side who were faster to the ball, hungrier in their pursuit of it and more decisive in their use of it.
It is an analysis which calls into question how Tipperary prepare their teams and the type of player being selected. There is no question but that the structures in place in the county to nurture young talent are excellent and widely acknowledged as being so, but it is surely time to examine where the emphasis is being placed in our approach to coaching.
Skill levels are exceptionally high, but there is more to the game than fine touches and sweet striking. Ball-winning, for example, appears to have become a lost art among the county’s attacking fraternity, a point underlined in the under-21 final defeat by the introduction of JK Bracken’s dual star Colin O Riordan whose aerial ability and willingness to go at opponents unsettling Clare was a key factor in Tipperary’s much improved showing in the final twenty minutes.
Is it now time that the county’s coaches were brought together to carry out their own analysis of the current situation based on their experience? There is absolutely no valid reason why Kilkenny, Limerick or Clare hurlers should be able to dominate Tipperary players in the manner we have experienced this year.
There is time for thought now before preparations for next year’s championships commence. It should be used productively to ensure that the whitewash in the three major hurling championships is not repeated in 2014.
Manager Ken Hogan was disappointed at his charges failure in the Munster under-21 hurling final, but the Lorrha man quickly pointed out that the better team won and that Clare showed the value of having so many senior players in their ranks.
“We failed to come out of the blocks for the first half and were chasing the game afterwards. We were lucky to be only six points down at half-time. We seemed a bit over-awed in the first fifteen minutes. We went at them in the second half and should possibly have taken points where we went trying to manufacture goals. A few decisions went against us but that tends to happen when you are chasing the game,” Ken Hogan said.
The former Tipperary All-Ireland winning goalkeeper accepted that Tipperary’s first half display was not good enough to win a Munster championship, but he saluted the players who, despite things not going their way, “kept going to the very end”.
He added: “We are disappointed, but I believe that at least a half dozen of these lads will play senior hurling for the county and will be successful. We are trying to develop the right kind of hurler and I believe we are getting there. I would take my hat off to these lads and the character they showed. The defeat is hard to take, but I believe they will come back stronger than before because as well as being good hurlers. They have the right character”.
Tipperary now look to their last remaining hope for national honours - the intermediate team - to raise the county’s spirits.